Mark of the Ninja caught my ear before my eye. I heard it described briefly on a GiantBombcast and knew I had to check it out for myself. 2 minutes into the trial was all I need to secure a reason for purchase. Mark of the Ninja is a Stealth game. Having an affinity for titles such as Splinter Cell or Thief isn’t required, but it will sure help. For me, I have grown tired of the Splinter Cell franchise with each successive iteration that separates itself from stealth and focuses more on ease and action. Ninja does what Chaos Theory did well years ago, and in many ways surpasses it.
In Mark of the Ninja you play a selected Ninja who is a assigned the difficult task of regaining a clans honor by assassinating an attacker. Cutscenes are stylized like Shank. I am not a big fan of this art style, but I can give it a pass because the scenes are short and to the point. The story itself is light, but surprisingly interesting. Levels are divided by buildings that you travel to as you complete your missions. Once you are there, choice to the name of the game.
Every encounter in Mark of the Ninja is a choice. You can attack head on, use a variety of items, or stealth around, above, below, or behind for the silent kill. I love to work as silently as possible, but my kills often take completely different forms and I am sure you would complete rooms differently that I did. The levels are immense but each room feels like a puzzle to be solved as efficiently as possible. This is partly due to the 2D design of the game that is different from SC or Thief. It is so much easier to plan out attacks or evade enemies when everything is laid out in front of you.
Lighting plays a big role in the gameplay of Ninja. When you climb the outside of a building, you can only see what is in front of you. Not until you peer over the ledge above you can you see the guard standing within reach. Dispatch him quickly and leap onto the rooftop, but avoid the light as your black silhouette will turn to color signifying your visibility. Visibility in Mark of the Ninja is binary. You either are or are not visible with no shades of gray. I really like the lighting systems implemented into this game. Often, you will see mostly black on your screen with outlines of yourself, guards, their previous locations, or noisy footsteps. This makes color that much more vibrant and impactful.
This is a 2D sidescrolling game that looks great, but it never flexes power as much as style. Character animations are slick and quick. The aforementioned lighting makes the environment feel claustrophobic, yet accessible. Levels are hugely detailed, often allowing you to choose between multiple branching paths. Its truly fun to have the option to attack from the interior, or to scale the outside of the building to avoid a conflict all together.
What I love about Mark of the Ninja is that it can make me feel like a skilled ninja and a vulnerable human at the same time. One minute I will be playing cat and mouse, skillfully toying with my foes. A quick slipup later and I’ll be dead. This is rarely frustrating as the mistake was obviously my fault and checkpoints are pretty forgiving. New Game Plus adds extra difficulty and make visibility even more realistic/hard. My suggestion is to check out the trial, you will know right away if Mark of the Ninja is for you.